An Autumn Harvest … Of Sorts

Harvesting the Gingko fruit in Lake Bluff; photo by Teresa Fawcett, age 11

By Adrienne Fawcett

Along a parkway in Lake Bluff there is a tree that has been attracting visitors lately. There are a lot of trees, actually, this being a Tree Village. But lately one, two, sometimes three people have been seen crouching beneath just one of the trees in the parkway on Sheridan Road between Witchwood Lane and East Sheridan Place. It’s a curious site, because the parkway is usually empty. So one day this week I asked them what they’re doing. Turns out they’re harvesting the fruit of the female Gingko tree.

That’s for certain, because they had two big buckets full the yellow fruit. I also learned the couple is Korean. But beyond that it was hard to converse because they don’t speak English and I don’t speak Korean. But the woman was friendly and seemed to say (though I can’t be sure) that they were harvesting the berries because they’re too expensive to buy them in stores.

From the Gingko tree on Sheridan Road

I couldn’t understand her explanation of what they were going to do with the berries–she seemed to describe putting them in a pot on a stove. But again–I can’t be sure. So I looked up recipes for Gingko fruit.

The fruit is apparently malodorous–some articles described it as smelling like vomit or rotten fruit. That I didn’t smell it doesn’t mean it didn’t smell–it could mean the wind was blowing a certain way, or that my own sense of smell is, like so many things, fading as the years pass.

I also learned via Google that it’s the seed that people are after–not the gooey fruit. Here are some other things Google turned up: “It has been known among Chinese people that the ginkgo nuts are mostly beneficial to our respiratory system including asthma, bronchitis, and coughs. Some even believe that they are good for people suffering from over-active bladder and children with bed-wetting problem. I use them often for culinary purposes, like cooking in soups, desserts, or even in porridge for added flavors” Ginkgoes are primitive gymnosperms. A tree is either female or male, carrying either ovules or pollen on the same short stalks as the leaves. The ovules mature into round seeds covered by yellow to orange flesh. The seeds are considered a delicacy in China and other Asian countries. They must be roasted or boiled before eating, and are considered to be a beneficial tonic. The Chinese name for the seed translates as “silver almond”. The Ginkgo Biloba tree may have served as food for dinosaurs during the Mesozoic Era over 200 million years ago. For this reason it is referred to as “the living fossil”. It is the oldest surviving species of tree on earth. For many centuries, the ginkgo has been cultivated as a sacred tree in Chinese and Japanese Buddhist temple gardens. Some ginkgoes are believed to be over 1,000 years old. The ginkgo is now planted throughout much of the United States as an ornamental tree. Ginkgo leaves are fan~shaped and grow in bunches at the end of short stalks. The tree usually stands 60 to 80 feet (18 to 24 meters) tall at maturity. The USDA zone of northernmost growth for Ginkgo is 5. They grow on a wide range of soils, preferring pH 6.0 ~ 6.5. They are highly adaptable and tolerant. They are traditionally esteemed as bonsai trees. Because ginkgo is highly resistant to insects, disease, and air pollution, it is often planted along streets in cities. In fact, ginkgo trees are so hardy that a solitary ginkgo was the only tree to survive the atomic blast in Hiroshima, sprouting back months later from a charred trunk! Ginkgo’s medicinal use can be traced back to ancient China, where the population used the dried herb for poor circulation, memory loss, and general mental deterioration. The world’s first great herbalist, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung, called ginkgo ‘good for the heart and lungs.’ A standardized leaf extract of Ginkgo is one of the most widely used herbal preparations in the world today. It has been shown clinically to be effective in improving blood circulation to the peripheral organs, including the brain and for this reason is especially valued to improve mental function in the elderly, and for tinnitus.” visit this one for photos of gingko from fruit to nut “A sweet, buff-colored, olive sized nut that is obtained from the center of the inedible fruit of the maidenhair tree, which is native to China. The hard shell of the nut is removed and the nutmeat inside is soaked in hot water to loosen the skin, which is discarded. Ginkgo nuts, which are available in Asian markets, are sold dried or canned in brine. The brine must be rinsed from the nuts before they can be used. Ginkgo nuts turn bright green when they are cooked and have a resinous flavor. They are very popular in Asian cooking, especially in Japanese recipes.”

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